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Katzav: Berlin aids mediation over Israeli soldiers
BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Germany has sought to use its influence to help release three Israeli soldiers seized by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah in October, Israeli President Moshe Katzav was quoted as saying on Saturday.
"The federal (German) government undertook a new initiative this week and passed on the message that we are ready to make agreements to ensure the welfare of the three soldiers," Katzav told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.
A government spokesman in Berlin noted Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had promised Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that he would do what he could in the matter when the two met during Schroeder's tour of the Middle East in October.
Schroeder pledged then that Germany -- which last year mediated the release of five Lebanese guerrillas jailed without trial in Israel -- would move "discreetly and emphatically." But he warned Berlin's influence should not be over-estimated.
The spokesman said he had no information on the outcome of the mediation effort.
Hizbollah captured the three soldiers in a cross-border ambush after Israel ended its 22-month occupation of south Lebanon in May. A few weeks later it said it had captured an Israeli intelligence officer after luring him to Lebanon.
The Islamic group insists Israel must free 19 Lebanese prisoners in return for any information on the Israelis, over whose fate an envoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross had contacts with Hizbollah this week.
Katzav cited the kidnapping as one reason why Israel is opposed to a U.N. force being drafted into the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, as urged in a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council by Palestinian supporters in November.
"There are U.N. troops in south Lebanon. We withdrew from there, just as the United Nations demanded. But Israeli soldiers were kidnapped under the very eyes of the U.N.," he said.
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